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Improper police investigation can strengthen defense case

Earlier this month, a federal judge in the state of New York struck down a policy in New York City dealing with a police procedure known as “stop and frisk,” citing the city’s use of the procedure as unconstitutional. Stop and frisk, as some of our readers may know, is a procedure whereby officers briefly detain, question and possibly search those they reasonably suspect of criminal activity. The technique is often used in policing for drug crimes.

The practice, in itself, is constitutional and is used in many metropolitan areas, but nowhere so extensively as in New York City. Its extensive use there was based on the idea that it would reduce crime. That, however, really isn’t supported by the evidence. While there has been a reduction in crime since the policy was implemented, there are other potential reasons for the crime drop, such as the great strides made in removing lead from gasoline and house paint.

In addition, a major problem with New York City’s practice was that it was having a disproportional impact on minorities, and involved racial profiling. Over half of those subjected to a stop and frisk in 2011 were black, while just under one third were Hispanic; white people comprised only 10 percent of those who were stopped.

While the decision does not invalidate the use of stop and frisk, it does put other cities on alert that the policing technique must be applied in a way that doesn’t involve racial profiling.

The importance of proper policing is great when it comes to putting together a thorough criminal defense case. When officers act improperly in conducting an investigation or gathering evidence, it can really weaken their case down the road. It is important, though, for defendants to have a strong advocate to see to it that their rights are protected. Legal protections are not really protections until they are claimed.

Source: Washington Post, “Here’s what you need to know about stop and frisk—and why the courts shut it down,” Dylan Matthews, August 13, 2013. 

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